Bullpen implodes as Orioles fall 8-6 to Tampa Bay

April 13, 2010 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles looked to be cruising toward their second win of the season behind the left arm of Brian Matusz, leading 3-0 in the top of the eighth and the left-hander in control of the game.

However, after striking out Willy Aybar to start the eight, Matusz gave up four straight singles, losing the shutout and turning the game over to the Baltimore bullpen with the based loaded and one out.

From there it completely fell apart.

Despite 7.1 sparkling innings from Matusz—striking out eight, walking one, and surrendering six hits—the bullpen imploded, allowing all three inherited runners to score and giving up four runs of its own as the Orioles fell to the Rays in 10 innings, 8-6.

“Tonight was similar to what we’ve been seeing for the last week,” said manager Dave Trembley. “We’re not closing the games out out of the bullpen. We’re not getting outs when we need to get outs. It’s no one guy [alone].”

The Orioles (1-7) have now given up at least one run in the eight or ninth inning in every game this season, a dubious stat playing a large part in why they’re already six games below .500 a little over a week into the season. The club has now allowed an astonishing 21 runs in the eighth inning or later in just eight games.

While Mike Gonzalez’s two blown saves have earned him the most notable goat horns to begin the season, the lefty hasn’t thrown a pitch since Friday. And the Orioles have lost all four games in which he hasn’t appeared since.

Jim Johnson, the man some have called to replace Gonzalez as the closer despite struggling in the role late last season, pitched just a third of an inning before giving up a two-run single to Evan Longoria to complete the Tampa Bay comeback, tying the game at 3-3. Lefty Will Ohman followed Johnson and gave up two more hits, allowing the go-ahead runs to score as the Orioles fell behind 5-3 entering the bottom of the eighth.

A tremendous night from the talented young starter was completely wasted, because the bullpen could not pick him up.

The pen even received a chance at redemption as Luke Scott’s clutch, pinch-hit two-run homer tied it in the bottom of the eight as the game eventually moved to an extra inning.

In the 10th, despite having a fresh Jason Berken available to pitch, Trembley again went with a struggling Matt Albers, pitching in his third consecutive game after giving up a run on Monday. Albers did not retire a better, walking two before giving up a three-run shot to Carlos Pena, sealing the Orioles’ fate of a fifth straight loss and a 1-7 record.

Since his impressive Opening Day performance at Tropicana Field last week, things have fallen apart quickly for the long reliever, who was considered a question mark to make the team entering spring training before an injury to Koji Uehara opened a spot for him. Albers has walked five in 4.1 innings, pitching to a 10.38 ERA.

“The ball’s not down, and his curveball is just being taken,” said Trembley about Albers, who is out of options. “It’s not being thrown for a strike.”

The collective implosion of the bullpen is just another problem to add to the pile plaguing the Orioles as they complete the home stand Wednesday afternoon before traveling to Oakland Thursday to begin a seven-game West Coast trip (and finishing the road trip with three in Boston).

The little things continue to build up. An ineffective bullpen, failure to hit with men in scoring position, and critical errors have all contributed to heartbreaking losses for the Orioles over the last week.

You only begin to wonder how long the starting pitching is going to hold up. It’s arguably the one bright spot for this club right now.

“We’re playing hard one through nine,” said Matusz. “You could see it with Luke’s homer. We’re just coming up short and have to battle through this.”

- The Orioles went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position Tuesday night and are just 10-for-63 (.159) on the season. The club is even worse with two outs, hitting just 1-for-29 (.034) in the first eight games.

- Longoria’s two-run single that tied the game in the eighth inning gave him eight RBI on the season, all of which have come against the Orioles.

- Scott’s pinch-hit home run was the first for the Orioles since Ty Wigginton did it on Sept. 30, 2009 against James Shields of the Rays.

Five of the club’s eight homers have either tied the game or given it a lead.

- The Orioles will send Brad Bergesen to the hill looking to avoid the sweep tomorrow afternoon at 1:35 p.m. Lefty phenom David Price will take the ball for Tampa Bay.

Check out the final box score here and the pre-game notes below.

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Good evening from a cold, rainy Oriole Park at Camden Yards as the Orioles (1-6) prepare to face the Tampa Bay Rays (4-3) in the second of a three-game set, scheduled to get underway at 7:05.

The major news of the day is the new lineup filled out by Dave Trembley in hopes of pumping a pulse into an offense that has scored only three runs in its last three games and is 1-for-17 with RISP over the same stretch.

Miguel Tejada will hit second, Matt Wieters will slide into the cleanup role, and Adam Jones will now hit from the No. 5 spot in the order. The move comes as no surprise as the Orioles manager said in his post-game press conference last night that he had to “show a different look” to get things going.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

Tampa Bay
SS Jason Bartlett
2B Sean Rodriguez
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
1B Carlos Pena
CF B.J. Upton
DH Willy Aybar
C Dioner Navarro
LF Gabe Kapler

SP Jeff Niemann (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Baltimore
LF Felix Pie
3B Miguel Tejada
RF Nick Markakis
C Matt Wieters
CF Adam Jones
DH Nolan Reimold
1B Garrett Atkins
2B Ty Wigginton
SS Cesar Izturis

SP Brian Matusz (1-0, 3.60 ERA)

The tarp is currently on the field, but the weather forecast does look promising in terms of seeing baseball this evening. How many people will be in the stands is an entirely different story.

Tonight is Matt Wieters T-shirt night, so I would imagine the promotion gave a boost to advanced sales for tonight’s game.

As always, please join WNST.net’s Orange Crush chat, beginning at 7:00 p.m. with Comcast Morning Show host Drew Forrester hosting and a variety of other WNST.net personalities chiming in throughout the evening. Also, remember to follow us on Twitter (@WNST) for the quickest news and updates from Camden Yards.

Check back right here for updates (time-stamped below) leading up to the scheduled first pitch at 7:05. At that point, I’ll be switching over to the Orange Crush to provide my thoughts.
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6:55 p.m. — I’m about to move over to the Orange Crush chat, but I thought I’d leave you with this surprising nugget of information.

The Orioles’ .158 average with runners in scoring position ranks 30th out of 30 teams in the big leagues.

I’m floored.

Things HAVE to turn around tonight, don’t they? See you in the live chat.

6:50 p.m. — While Brian Roberts has been the focal point on the injury front, we received word today that Koji Uehara was scheduled to throw another bullpen session in Sarasota this afternoon. As he did on Sunday, the Japanese righty was expected to throw 25 pitches in the session as he works his way back in shape after a left hamstring injury sidelined him during spring training.

6:30 p.m. — In an effort to change up their luck, the Orioles will wear their orange batting practice jerseys for tonight’s game. Let’s hope it works.

Of course, it’s not quite the same look as this:
Orioles

It’s sad to think three of the four 20-game winners are no longer with us.

5:56 p.m. — The grounds crew is currently removing the trap from the field, so it looks like we’ll have baseball tonight as expected.

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, tonight’s game provides an attractive pitching duel as Brian Matusz gets the ball in his second start against right-hander Jeff Niemann. Matusz was uncharacteristically wild in his first start in Tampa, walking five batters while striking out seven in five innings. However, the young lefty finished strongly and secured the only victory of the season for the club.

On the opposite side, Niemann was knocked out in the second inning after taking a line drive to the pitching shoulder from Tejada. It was a scary scene at the time, but the Rays pitcher sustained only a bruise and is not expected to be limited tonight. Niemann had a successful 2009, going 13-6 with a 3.94 ERA. The 6-9 righty will definitely provide a challenge to the Baltimore lineup, as if it needed one currently.

Much has been said about the high hopes for Matusz as a potential No. 1 in the future, but the Orioles will need him to pitch like an ace tonight. At 1-6 and a seven-game West Coast trip looming after the series finale against Tampa Bay tomorrow afternoon, the club needs something to feel good about to hopefully build some momentum.

If not, things could spiral even further out of control.

No pressure on the 23-year-old though, right?

5:23 p.m. — Mike Gonzalez is back with the team after traveling back to Arizona to be with wife for the birth of his daughter, so the big question on everyone’s mind is whether he’ll received the ball in the ninth inning in a save situation.

Trembley has implied that Gonzalez will be eased back into the closer role while working on his mechanics with pitching coach Rick Kranitz, citing a preference for the team to have a big lead in the final inning.

Any lead in the ninth inning would be acceptable at this point, but that’s just me.

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